Discover more from Owen Dennis's Infinite Train of Thought
What's Owen Working on Right Now?
Yes, today I'm gonna talk all about me me me!
I’ve gotten a number of questions over the past year or so asking what I’m doing professionally now, after the cancellation of Infinity Train, so I thought I’d give an update on everything going on that isn’t under some kind of NDA. I’m not huge on talking about stuff before it’s happened, nor just openly talking about me me me, but I figure if I do it all in one big post I can sort of rip off the bandaid and do it all at once.
I have an overall deal with CBS!
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Since December of 2021, every animated TV show idea that I have goes directly through CBS. It’s a two year deal, so I’m about halfway through it now. The deal only covers animated television, so I’m still free to do animated movies and live-action movies or TV separate from CBS. There is also a clause in the deal that says I can still work on Infinity Train if that somehow got picked up again somewhere.
One interesting thing about it is that CBS is partially independent I guess? So while I may be working on something through CBS, it still could end up being distributed and seen by the general public somewhere else (eg. Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, etc.).
So far I’ve developed 4 original TV shows with them, and 3 IP’s. They’ve been super supportive. Almost everything I’ve brought to them they’ve been interested in. We’re currently closing various kinds of deals on 6 of those 7 shows.
What Are the Shows About?
I can’t go into details really, but I think I can give some rough ideas on themes and genres maybe?
Two game adaptions, both wildly different in tone from one another, but both are adult comedies. One has themes about trust and othering, while the other has themes about actualization, abandonment, and how modern capitalism interacts with our sense of self. You know, comedy!
One adaption of a book that was already made into a live action movie a long time ago, but I think would be really interesting if it was animated. A cool theme in the book is generational misogyny, how it gets passed down from parents to their children, and how rears its ugly head within us. This would be an adult/YA sort of story I think. Not a comedy, more like a fantasy/suspense?
Well first off, there’s a new Hey Toby Hey Owen I released a couple months ago:
I’m developing a show with Alex Horab, one of the Infinity Train writers, that is an animated anthology series. Very excited about that one.
I have a post-apocalyptic animated show that I think would have the same ratio of comedy to “heart stuff” as Infinity Train, but definitely for adults. It reminds me of Tank Girl, Mad Max, and Waterworld. It’s been fun coming up with a visual style for this one.
A weirdo surrealist comedy in space (kind of). I’m actually already making this one on my own in the corner of a spare room in my house. CBS is seeing if we can pull together a micro-budget to just make it into a tiny series and have fun with it.
Last one: I worked with Ryan Pequin to turn his webcomic, Three Word Phrase, into an animatic.
Wanna see it?
Are you an EXECUTIVE and wanna MAKE it? Then contact me! Otherwise I might just self-fund? We’ll see! I am not a wealthy man, but I really think this is a good project!
Yes, I’m working on my own movies as well! Again, I can’t really reveal what they’re about, but I can kinda give a ballpark I guess?
A sci-fi movie set about 200 years into the future. It’s a cyberpunk-y motorcycle racing movie that covers themes of bodily autonomy, corporate control of our genes, and what it is to be human, all while racing at 300mph on racetrack megastructures. I’d like it to be animated, because if it was live action it would end up being like 90% animated anyway, but if you go fully animated then you get to do some fun stylish stuff as well.
A horror movie about depression and how it feels like something that crawls into your ear and lives inside you forever.
I’ve also pitched my version of various IP’s that have gotten understandably and hilariously rejected from large studios.
While I’m waiting for these various things to go into production, I’m also helping my good friend Toby Jones with the VFX on his new movie, AJ: Goes to the Dog Park! It’s a surrealist comedy that he’s making with zero budget. I’m incredibly impressed with how he just decided to make an entire movie and that he keeps making it and hasn’t given up! It has taken him like a year and half to film it all so far, almost entirely with a volunteer crew of friends who just believe in what he’s doing. It’s super inspiring and it makes me keep going and trying to make my own no-budget stuff as well.
I just make the odd special effect here and there. It’s very fun, weird, and varied! Here are a few shots I did VFX for:
My agents are working with Warner Bros. Discovery to see if we can get it onto some streaming service somewhere. Hopefully someday when Warner is less, you know, the way it is? I hope it’ll happen soon!
Getting Stuff Made
So I also get asked pretty regularly about what studios are looking for and how to get your show made. My answer is generally this: I dunno! As you’ve seen, I have more than half a dozen things in development, and that’s just at one company, I have other stuff elsewhere. It’s been almost 2 years since I last worked on Infinity Train and in that time I haven’t actually made a new show, everything is either in development or has been tossed back and forth between lawyers for 6-8 months.
Here’s what I can generally say I’ve been seeing:
You have no clue what anyone is looking for at any given moment.
All these different studios all believe that whatever algorithms they’re using are perfect, even though they’re made by people and interpreted by people (spoiler alert: people are far from perfect). Streaming platform algorithms are mostly fish poop pretending to be caviar. That’s a whole dissertation for another time, however.
The point I’m getting to is: when you pitch to these studios or streaming services, you can never tell beforehand if they actually want whatever it is you’re selling. Almost all of them have something they’re going for like “we want more adult stuff” or “We want more stuff for casual audiences” etc, but all of them have different mandates. So what doesn’t work in one place, might work perfectly fine somewhere else. Heck, it might even work with a studio you’ve already pitched to but in like a year or so when they’ve changed what they’re looking for. So while I’ve done a hundred pitches in the past year and almost all of them have failed, I try not to get discouraged because, by the law of averages, eventually someone somewhere will be into it because they’re constantly shifting what they’re looking for ALL the time.
Everyone wants someone else to have already bought into it
I don’t know exactly where this comes from, but it seems like big studios really like it when one or two production companies are already attached to a project. Doesn’t even have to be a celebrity attachment, just some other production company. When I’ve pitched directly to a studio, whatever my idea is, they sort of hem and haw on it. However, when I walk in with another production company to back me up and say it’s a good idea, the studios are much more likely to be into it. I feel like it has something to do with there already being people that are excited about it. It reduces their risk because they get to say “Well, someone already likes it, so surely that means other people will too!” and that gets us to the next point:
IP rules all.
This part sucks. If it’s an IP, that’s the top thing that makes a studio much more likely to buy it. They don’t want young creators to just make something for a reasonably low budget and see how it goes, that entire part of the industry that gave us low to mid-budget, wonderful films from the 30’s through the early 2000’s is completely gone. That sort of money is now put into making streaming movies or shows, the downsides of which are many.
One of the more frustrating things about IP ruling all is just how deep it goes. It has become almost a rule. I’ve pitched my own, original properties to companies and been told “That sounds kind of like this IP we already own, do you wanna make that instead?” and my answer is always no. I want to make my thing. That IP you’re suggesting got to be made by a person who made their own thing, and congrats to them, but why do I now have to make their thing again? They already made it, I wanna make my thing.
IP has always been a big thing for studios, but lately it’s almost exclusively what they’re doing. When IP started coming back hard, it was because the studios realized that with so much stuff being made, it was the easiest way to make some kind of splash without spending any money marketing it. It was a way to cut through the noise. It’s annoying, but it’s understandable, and I can see how this would start happening.
However, that only works with properties that people actually know. At this point, the obsession over IP’s has been digging so deep that studios are pulling obscure IP’s out from decades ago that no one has ever heard of, which completely negates the original point of doing reboots and remakes of old IP’s in the first place. It’s just cringey and desperate feeling and I’m embarrassed on their behalf when I see it.
What’s even crazier is the amount of execs I’ve met that don’t want to do this (all of them). I’m constantly told by execs that lament about how they wish they could make original stuff and not IP’s, but that their hands are tied. None of us got into this business so that we could remake old stuff. We didn’t watch some movie as an 8-year-old and say “When I grow up, I want to make this same exact movie but for a modern, four-quadrant audience, and as the jumping off point for an extended universe of films.” No one wants to do this, but for some reason, everyone in charge feels forced to.
I mean aren’t we all starting to laugh at and get bored by “universes”? It’s alienating at this point, and a turn off, when you know that a movie or show you’re watching is just there to set up some other movie or season you’re supposed to watch later. You can really feel it in what you’re watching and it just feels gross. Let’s just make things we wanna watch now with an actual ending, then we won’t feel gross when we watch stuff and can just sit and enjoy it!
I think it’s a huge, joyless loss that an entire generation of artists are having their original, unique, and timely voices shifted almost entirely into the IP mines. A loss that I feel won’t be seen or understood fully for at least a decade, but when it happens, will feel like we’re missing an entire part of our collective souls.
However, I recently had a conversation where I pitched a show and was asked “is this an IP?” and I said “no”. This person said that was great, because something they’ve been running to with IP’s is how long it takes to get all the parties involved (the studio, the production company, the distributor, some celebrity, all the original rights holders, etc) to agree on something just takes forever. Meaning they can be pumped about the show, but then not get to start making it for like 1-2 years because it takes so long to go back and forth between a dozen lawyers.
So it’s possible that the pendulum is beginning to swing back, and that doing stuff that “isn’t IP” could start being seen as a hip, new, cool way to make shows and movies. Ironically, everything old becomes new again.
The Future is Precarious
I’m torn on the immediate future of animation. Seeing Disney, Netflix, and Warner, all decide to cut back or entirely eliminate their animation development really hurts, especially after animation kept these companies afloat for two years.
There are upsides and downsides that I’m seeing, and they come from odd places.
It looks like there is going to be an increase in adult animation within the next couple of years. Unfortunately, it’s going to be almost entirely raunchy comedies. The upside is that some studios, after making their 300th animated show about a family of bears where the baby says “fuck”, will start to try and differentiate themselves somehow and release other stuff. So the future of adult animation will start dipping into other genres, and I’ve seen it start to happen already, which is very exciting!
On the other end of this, it honestly looks like there will be less children’s animation as well. When you think about how these decisions are being made, it makes sense on the surface, but feels very hand to forehead when you think about it.
Children’s animation seems to be becoming less of a priority because of, you guessed it, algorithms and data! The streaming services see that adults are watching adult animation. Makes sense. However, it’s literally illegal to collect the data of children online, so they don’t actually know if children are watching children’s shows. Adults have the credit cards, adults can be tracked, so all they know is what adults are watching.
It’s generally been found that kids will just watch whatever streaming service adults have already bought and/or youtube, so some streamers aren’t seeing a reason to make children’s content to draw kids to them. Also, Disney is so associated with children at this point that a lot of companies are just giving it up entirely and passing on children’s stuff because it’s not worth it for them to try and bite into that part of the pie. If adults want kid’s stuff for their kids, separately from what they’re already paying for themselves, they’ll just buy Disney+ for them.
Because animation is still, unfortunately, seen as mostly something for children, this means that there will be less animation overall as the studios gut how much children’s stuff they make. It also means less variety in the children’s stuff that’s being made.
I still strongly believe that the future of animation will include a lot more in the way of adult, non-comedy fare, it seems that that future is further off than I had hoped. It’s still coming, but until the streamers get more comfortable with how they exist, what sort of profits they’re able to make, and with how the market works for streaming, it’s gonna be very rocky for awhile. I think that won’t happen until we get a few more mergers, which also means less options for where people can pitch their stuff. I’ve never been pro-merger, so it’s not something I’m particularly looking forward to.
So as I said, it’s all looking a little bleak, but also there are these glimmers of light. It’s really only going to take one or two companies trying to break away and try something new to make the whole industry try to follow suit and ride that wave.
Got some eclectic stuff for you today! I was just introduced to Kim Petras’s horny-as-hell album Slut Pop. Been having a great time listening to it, so I included one of her songs, “XXX”.
I also just learned about Orville Peck, a modern country western singer who sounds like he’s straight out of the 60’s. I included one of his latest songs, “C’mon Baby, Cry” as an addition to today’s playlist.
We also have a few other songs that I’ve been enjoying recently, such as “Cool, Nice” by Cobra Man, “Cool on Your Island” by Y Kant Tori Read, some 70’s Nigerian funk from the Lijadu Sisters, as well as some classic songs from Peter Gabriel, The Association, and Prince Paul.
I’ve rearranged the playlist so that the newest stuff is always at the top now, so that should be easier for a quick listen!
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